The Indian government has blocked FTSE 100 company Vedanta Resources’ plan to expand its highly controversial alumina refinery below the Niyamgiri hills in Orissa, in the latest setback for the company.
India’s Environment Ministry has rejected Vedanta’s plan to expand the refinery sixfold, and demanded immediate improvements to the existing plant.
Survival International reports that over a hundred families lost their homes when the refinery was built, and many others lost their land and livelihood.
One man told Survival, “The site where the refinery is now, the sources of water were in abundance. But now the bauxite dust is mixing into the wells and the streams. We’re in great trouble, nothing is right here.”
The refinery was part of a massive mining project that would have seen the sacred mountain of the Dongria Kondh tribe destroyed. After years of resistance from the tribe, and a huge international campaign from organisations including Survival International and Amnesty, the Indian government axed the mine.
An Environmental Court has compounded this decision by revoking Vedanta’s “environmental clearance” for the mine, after members of the Dongria Kondh tribe appealed against it. The judge declared that the original clearance had not considered the “human miseries which the project is likely to inflict”.
An expert committee tasked with investigating Vedanta’s activities in Orissa concluded that the company had worked on the expansion of the refinery without official permission, being a “serious offence”.
Vedanta appealed to continue with its plan to expand the refinery regardless, but failed.
In a different Indian state, Tamil Nadu, the Madras High Court ordered the closure of Vedanta’s notorious Tuticorin copper smelter, concluding that it was releasing pollution into the air and water with “devastating impact”. India’s Supreme Court is now examining the case.
“Vedanta is learning the hard way that it cannot ride roughshod over tribal people's forever,” said Stephen Corry, Director of Survival International, “Other companies should learn from Vedanta’s mistakes: before investing time and money in a project, a company must gain the consent of local tribal communities”.